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Hey men - let’s make our streets & buses safe for women & girls

A ‘Youth Sanap Wantaim’ campaigner creating awareness of street harassment during Anti-Street Harassment Week


PORT MORESBY - It was busy Friday and I was amongst the people walking through the Ori Lavi building when a stranger whispered to me, “Hey, lush you, perfume stap olsem yu iet.’’

Before I could react he had disappeared into the crowd; frustratingly because it was third time in a week this had happened to me and I could have slapped the guy with force and give him a lesson to think about a thousand times before doing it to anyone else.

This is not a new or unusual incident for any Papua New Guinean girls in public places or who use public transport in our urban areas. It’s the kind of daily challenge to our safety that occurs whenever women and girls step out of their homes.

A stupid remark like “Hey stack one, nogat makmak,” being spat out on the street by a stranger is something many women and girls experience.

It may seem like just a bit of harmless fun but street harassment is really about power and control and I know from personal experience that it can easily turn to violence.

It’s upsetting to see women and girls being harassed by name calling, unwanted comments or touching when they pass a group of strangers on the street of Boroko or around Gordon’s market.

If young girls walk to a bus stop in their shorts, men will leer and start whistling, catcalling and making demands. Taxi drivers follow them around, hooting their car horns. Lewd comments are hurled from all angles.

Sometimes women just stand there looking stunned and thinking that these men must’ve come from a cave in the middle of the New Guinea jungle. Perhaps if someone walked along in a bikini and put on a show in front of these cavemen they would just back off and walk away.

We live in a world where every day I am reminded that women are a commodity because every day we are treated like a piece of public property.

Most women in PNG experience this form of harassment and they feel unsafe in public places and take steps to avoid harassment by varying their routines, changing the way they dress, refusing eye contact or even avoiding make-up.

Others travel in groups or are always accompanied by men while some even employ their own defence mechanisms such as walking with keys between their knuckles.

Street harassment is not trivial. Everyone has the right to feel comfortable and safe in public places. It is a human rights violation and a form of assault. Men get away with amongst other men because women are undervalued and disrespected in our society.

This is not something for men to think of as fun or a joke and they should know that harassment can cause emotional and psychological harm to women and girls.

Street harassment can have major effects especially for teenage girls.

At one stage of my life, I was around 12, this kind of behaviour led to poor self-esteem, depression and a fear of going to school or the shops. It’s not a simple, one moment experience. It can be a horribly drawn out affair.

Such experiences cause students to miss school and can affect learning and academic success. It is important for men to understand and to be educated on the psychological, physical and emotional effects of street harassment.

It is good to see that the organisation UN Women is recognising the effects of street harassment by carrying out an awareness program to prevent it.

If such organisations take bold steps to make public places safer, we women can too by being good bystanders and friends to strangers by helping out if they are being harassed.

Speak up, be smart, be safe and help bring an end to street harassment.


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Dominica Are

I have experienced street harassment countless times and it truly sickens me. Being a regular commuter, this is something I experience almost everyday at the bus stop. When I was pregnant I thought this would stop , but it did not! Derogatory comments have been hurled at me. Have these men lost their sense of respect? And its true, you get harassed when you walk alone. But it really doesn't matter if you're alone or in a group - we all should have our freedom of movement and move around without fear of being harassed.

Today, I just don't feel like getting out of the house.

The awareness program must to spread to all parts of the country to end this sickening behaviour.

Rashmii Bell

ABC Brisbane Radio Broadcaster, Emma Griffith, recently interviewed Mary Kini of Kip Women for Peace. A question put forward was the relevance of the #MeToo movement in PNG. Mary highlighted that whilst instances of harrassment and assaults may take place, contemporary PNG society has created the norm of girls and women enduring it and not speaking out.

This week on Twitter, Betty's article has been widely circulated with a small handful of PNG women (Twitter users with public visibility accounts) coming forward and sharing their experience. It is a start. A contribution one PNG writer has made to (re) starting conversation about an issue that needs to addressed by society as a whole.

Lindsay F Bond

Perhaps most human societies range from lesser light to brighter plage. For readers seeking thoughts of attainable ideal and intermediary steps, maybe some words will align as encouragement for your efforts.

Of person…
vacuous plague
lost from village
wanton spillage
flows dull sullage

Of place…
aimless league
loosed curtilage
lacks vassalage
flagrants pillage

Of purpose…
morally vague
limp cartilage
faun-ing pelage
utters persiflage

Of parity…
dims by blague
makes mucilage
brings but soilage
cuts bricolage

Of penance…
measure ullage
make maquillage
take tutelage
grow assemblage.

Max Phin

While I fully support the campaign against street harassment, I would like to also highlight that one root cause of this type of behaviour in our men during these times is the easy access and availability of porn.

And the local songs that some of our young musicians produce these days relating to love and relationship are totally disrespectful to our female citizens.

Where are the governing authorities, ie, NICTA, Customs, ICCC etc when we need them?

Baka Bina

Read Emily Bina's Poem which is published in 'Musings From Sogopex'. She penned this poem 10 years ago. It is now available on e-kindle

Lo! The Pick Pocket

Emily Bina

You pick on the weak and the flustered,
You pick on the old and the unwary,
You pick on the dimdims, the dumdums,
You pick at Koki, you pick at Gordons.

You pick mobile phones and wallets,
You pick two kina and school books,
You pick the students and the workers,
You pick at the major minor bus stop.

You pick bilums and school bags,
You pick shirt pockets and six pockets,
You pick the front and the back,
You pick for anything,
You pick for your life.

You pick with the fingers,
You pick with the razor,
You pick with a pack,
You pick for your bread and for your butter.

You pick for the Nambis and you smile em up,
You pick the Mamose and you glee em up,
You pick the NGI and you look em up,
You pick for the Papuans and you shout em up,
You pick the unwary Highlander n you skin em up,
You pick the wary Highlander and Lo!
You pick your ego;
You pick your teeth on the ground.

Emily Bina would travel from her school at Kila Kila Primary to get to UPNG three times a week. She had to get on three lots of buses, (1) from Kila Kila to Manu Autoport (2) from Manu Autoport to Gordons and (3) from Gordons to the University.

Commuters jostling to get into the busses are a constant challenge at each bus stop, especially, when school children are out from schools in the afternoons. These occasions are a bonanza for pickpockets.

'Lo, The Pick Pocket' is her message to them and to all of us, the rest of humankind. We need to not give these thugs the opportunity to pick on us. If we use public spaces, being vigilant goes a long way.

The problem is grown triple now with all male - from as young as 10 to 50 year old men taking marijuana (spak brus) in broad daylight. In the cities, we have a lot of zombies, men and boys as small as 10 years old who act like animals in packs.

We feel sorry for our women and girls in the public sphere but we can do very little as these animals in packs will do anything to look after their own, unless there are courageous men nearby.

In the villages, it is never getting any better. In collecting anecdotal stories for my next work, women from my village have related to me that they are scared to go to their own gardens alone.

They stand to be raped by red eyed young boys whose brains have been parked elsewhere and whom in days gone by would have shown utmost respect to all women and girls.

Ms Wakia is raising an issue that will get out of hand soon if it hasn't already. Like Emily wishes in her poem, you want to wish that these louts will pick their teeth off the ground.

Bernard Corden

It is somewhat paraxodical with the rapid advance of antisocial media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that has generated an exponential increase in anomie.

Alone together by Sherry Turkle discusses why we expect more from technology and less from each other.

We now have a generation that has surrendered culture to technology just count the number of socially autistic morons at major road junctions glued to personal electronic gadgets and preoccupied by a world of passive vicarious entertainment with little remaining energy to address real world issues such as education, health and law and order.

Careerist zombies have usurped the working class hero and accumulate and worship objects that merely thrill for a moment and satisfy for a minute.

Zuckerberg claims to be creating a community but it is doing the precise opposite and platforms such as Twitter or Facebook have sinister totalitarian objectives, which destroy language and extirpate culture.

Daniel Kumbon

I used to see men respect womenfolk and keep their distance when I grew up in the 1950s until the 1970s.

But then I saw 'modern' PNG men approaching women differently. They began to describe them as 'smelling like a chemist' and such descriptions.

We have all forgotten that we lived in a woman for nine long months and that we have sisters, aunties, girlfriends, wives, cousins etc. Just how sick some PNG men have become, I fail to understand.

Rashmii Bell

Truly infuriating.

I really appreciate you writing on this issue, Betty. This is an extension of what Betty had described to me recently when we met up in Port Moresby. She'd arrived at our meeting spot in the company of her brother, citing similar reasons as above.

It's a frustrating and sad situation that in PNG as well as globally, that 'safety in numbers' persists as our mindset and behaviour.

Thanks for that link, Paul. I wasn't aware of Plan Australia's 'Free to Be Map' app. Would be excellent to get something like that accessible for PNG.

Paul Oates

Hi Betty, Part of the problem here is anonymity. You feel alone whereas the the men who are harassing you either disappear into the crowds or surround themselves with other men for notional protection to hide their shame.

In other cultures, there has been a recent role reversal and men get treated in similar ways, sometimes by other men.

The answer is firstly understand the problem and then to take steps to counter it. If you walk with friends who will provide peer group support this may deter some from harassing you.

If you help form a group of people who publically discourage and shame this type of behaviour that might also help.

Equality of the sexes is still being fought out in western societies and many will continue to be hurt and shamed and so feel frustrated and angry.

The hardest emotion to overcome is anger. If you can imagine that the people harassing you are actually too scared to politely address you and feel inadequate to conduct a conversation in a reasonable manner then you might start understanding where this problem often starts.

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